The Port of Virginia in Hampton Roads is widely regarded as one of the top deepwater harbors on the East Coast. With channels reaching 50 feet in depth and year-long freedom from ice, the Port of Hampton Roads can accommodate ships of all sizes and purposes, from the largest of container ships to the cruise ships that dock at the Norfolk Terminals. Currently the Port of Virginia sees interaction with over 300 different ports in more than 100 countries.
Why is This Important?
Port activity has a substantial economic impact on the Hampton Roads region. The Virginia Port Authority alone averages yearly operating revenue of more than $250 million. Operations of this size translate to significant impact on local area income and employment. A 2008 economic impact study estimates that port operations generate $12.3 billion in local output, $4.1 billion in employee compensation, and 100,244 in total employment.
How is Hampton Roads Doing?
The Port of Hampton Roads experienced a significant decline in tonnage and twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) shipped as a result of the Great Recession. TEU totals had been down nearly 400,000 units from their 2007 peak of 2.1 million, but growth in all areas has resumed as the economic recovery takes hold and expansion projects around the port are completed. General tonnage increased another 1.9 percent from 2010 to 2011 and TEUs increased 1.2 percent over the same period. The Port of Virginia website has the latest monthly results.
Activity in the port is managed principally by the Virginia Port Authority, which oversees Virginia International Terminals, Inc. in its operation of the Newport News Marine Terminal, Portsmouth Marine Terminal, and the Norfolk International Terminals. Numerous coal and oil terminals also dot the harbor, and the new APM/Maersk Terminal ushered in a new era of maritime financing and construction.
Among the ports in the United States, the Hampton Roads Port has the 7th highest volume of cargo. In its peer group, however, it still trails New York / New Jersey and Savannah in this category.
In 2004, 81 million tons of freight were transported into the Hampton Roads area from within North America alone. Another 48 million tons left Hampton Roads destined for various locations around the continent. 66 percent of freight transport in and out of the port area was by truck in 2011, down slightly from 2010's 68 percent in favor of rail. Despite the easy access to air services provided by Norfolk International Airport's freight terminal and four rail providers nearby, the ability of trucks to reach so many destinations gives them an advantage over other forms of transportation.
As the capacity of the port increases, storage facilities and available transportation capacity must expand as well. Estimates from 2004 put the available warehouse space in the Hampton Roads area at 14.6 million square feet, 29 percent of which was still available. Port activity into the future will largely be influenced by the ability of the Hampton Roads region to manage the timely storage and transportation of an increasing volume of freight. The price, availability, reliability, and expediency of freight transportation to and from the port are major factors influencing the structure and future of the transportation system.
Another influence on port activity comes from the ease with which certain foreign transactions are allowed to take place. The Port of Hampton Roads contains a number of Free Trade Zones that allow for the re-exportation of merchandise, as well as attractive international duty policies.
Data Definitions and Sources
- A short ton is a unit of mass equal to 2,000 pounds, common in measuring freight.
- Twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) is a measurement based on the volume of a twenty-foot-long shipping container.
Authority -- Freight Data
and Port Comparisons
The Fiscal Year 2006 Virginia Economic and Fiscal Impacts of Virginia Port Authority Operations, College of William and Mary, Mason School of Business Compete Center.
Intermodal Management System Regional Freight Study (T0-702), Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, 2007.
American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) Survey.
Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization. Hampton Roads Intermodal Management System.
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Hampton Roads Performs.